Northwest College

How to Respond to a Sexual Assault Survivor

If someone tells you that she or he had been sexually assaulted or raped, it is sometimes hard to know how to respond in a supportive, genuine, and non-judgmental way.

Research shows that the first response survivors receive when they disclose an assault is critical to their healing. Your response can have a lasting impact on their recovery.

Suggested Responses

Consider these non-judgmental, supportive responses from Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN, 2016):

  • “I’m sorry this happened.” This phrase helps to communicate empathy. You might also say, “This must be tough for you to talk about.” Acknowledge the experience has affected their life.
  • “It’s not your fault.” Too often, survivors blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind survivors that they aren’t to blame. You may need to remind them more than once.
  • “I believe you.” Believing a person is one of the best things you can do. Survivors can have a difficult time coming forward and sharing their story, often feeling ashamed, concerned they won’t be believed, or worried they might be blamed. Support them. Believe them.
  • “You are not alone.” Remind survivors that you are there for them and willing to listen. Remind them of other people in their life who care. Help them seek a counselor or other services to receive support from a professional during the recovery process.

Continued Support 

There is no timetable for recovering from sexual violence. If someone trusted you enough to disclose the event to you, consider the following ways to show continued support.

  • Active listening. Stay focused on what survivors are saying and what they need.
  • Check in periodically. Passing time doesn't mean the pain is gone. Check in with survivors to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe them.
  • Avoid judgment. Avoid phrases that suggest survivors are taking too long to recover. Remember there is no timetable for recovering.
  • Remember that the healing process is fluid. Having bad days, flashbacks, or silent spells are part of the healing process. Don’t interpret them as setbacks  (RAINN, 2016).

Helpful Resources

Need more support? Consider these resources: